Coming off keto can be just as challenging as taking it on in the first place. Most personal trainers have probably had plenty of clients that have tried the ketogenic diet or at least asked about it. It’s been all the rage for a quick-fix, weight-loss way the last couple of years. Yet, it’s been my experience that most people who tried it and got disenchanted missed the mark in that it only works insofar as the level of commitment and adherence to it.
I got so inundated with people blaming keto for not reaching their weight loss goal that I’ve done my best to educate my clients and to write about why that is. I hate to say it, but the majority never followed the facts. The majority did not realize in order for the body to get into a fat-adapted state, it takes time to transition onto keto. In order to experience the optimal results from keto, one must not waffle. There is no wiggle room.
Similarly, in order to come off of it safely, it takes time and special attention to sustain benefits and not completely tank.
Transitioning off Keto
How does a fitness coach guide clients who’ve been on keto long-term to transition safely back to carbs being their primary source of fuel?
*As always, there’s a reminder to fit pro’s that they are educating clients, but this is not to replace proper medical attention or referral as needed.*
1) Discuss WHY: Let clients know that the body’s been fat-adapted. Just like it took time to become fat-adapted, the body needs to get used to the extra carbohydrates (CHO). Adding too many too fast can create some of the following situations:
- Bloating & Gas
- Slow digestion
- Mood swings
- Low energy/brain fog/”bonking”
- Excessive weight gain
- Increased cravings for sugar/appetite
These side effects occur when people incorporate too many CHOs’ back into their diet too fast because the body needs time to adapt to the switch in macronutrient ratios. It has to do with insulin release and the body’s metabolic responses to digesting CHO as well.
In a fat-adapted state, the body doesn’t need to release as much insulin as when more CHO’s are re-introduced into the system. The rapid insulin release of high carb reintroduction creates fluctuating blood sugar levels in the body, leading to the discomfort described above. Jille Keene, RDN says to add 10g CHO daily while other nutrition professionals recommend adding 1 extra serving of CHO daily until the desired level of CHO is reached.
It’s not that CHO that’s the “enemy.” This is especially important for those wanting to re-adjust their systems to embrace. It’s how it’s done to be cautious about. Same thing applies with fats: they aren’t the enemy either nor is the ketogenic diet, per say. A steady balance must be struck, and done so with intention.
That leads to the next point to cover with your clients:
2) Discuss HOW:
Go slow. The body on keto is used to a small number of carbs daily. When someone becomes fat-adapted, the body needs time to re-adjust. Think about any major lifestyle change or transition off of a specific way of eating.
If a client is vegan and looking to transition to vegetarian, it wouldn’t be prudent to add a bunch of milk and cheese into the diet right away, right? You’d add the dairy back slowly. If a vegetarian was starting to eat meat or fish again, the recommendation is to start with fish or poultry first and in small portions. Pause, see how the body reacts and add red meat back into the diet last. It’s the same concept as coming off of keto.
Do it slowly. Do it safely.
Use a carb tracker: There’s so many free apps that can be used or your clients can go old school it and manually count the CHO’s. Whatever they use, make sure it’s legit and the databases’ numbers are verified.
Eat healthy carbs: It’s so tempting to go for the ice creams, cookies, and other sweet treats but man is that a bad idea! Remember, the hormone insulin is going to be called in more post-keto. It’s best practice to eat foods low on the Glycemic Index to prevent an over-release of insulin.
Choose high-fiber options: This helps keep things moving in the intestinal tract and promotes healthy bowel movements.
Keep up with training and exercise: Carbohydrates by definition retain water. CHO’s by definition, retain water. For every 1g of CHO, 2-3g of water is retained; some weight will be regained in water. But, if your client was on keto long-term this shouldn’t be so noticeable, especially if the client continues to be active and stays on the fitness plan.
Watch portion sizes: This goes for any way of eating, for obvious reasons. Eating heaps of CHO’s in one sitting (or any food for that matter) is never a solid digestive or health choice!
Be patient: Remind the client it took time to become fat-adapted and time for the body to optimize results while on keto. It’s going to take time to switch back. How much time? It depends on the client’s metabolism, how long the client was on keto, the pace at which they re-insert the CHO’s, activity level, and other demographics (age, gender, etc.).
Refer when needed: If the client is running into difficulties that are beyond your comfort or a fit pro’s scope of practice, refer them to a credentialed professional.
The 2020 holiday season is fast approaching and with the majority of the globe affected by a pandemic— people are making all sorts of different plans (and in some cases none at all). It’s not surprising with the additional uncertainties and changes that more and more people might be ready and wanting to come off of keto. It’s important to support and educate them. It’s also going to be interesting to see what the next nutrition trend will be!